Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Year's Best SF: 13

If you need any evidence that the science fiction field is changing, look at the “Story Copyrights” page of Year’s Best SF 13, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. The book contains 25 stories first published in 2007 and here are their original publication sites:

• 7 were originally published in traditional prozines (4 in Asimov’s; 2 in F&SF; 1 in Analog);
∙ 5 were published in other magazines (2 in Nature and 2 in Foundation 100 and 1 in Subterranean 7);
∙ 10 were published in anthologies (5 in Fast Forward 1, 2 in The SFWA European Hall of Fame, and 1 each in Eclipse 1, The New Space Opera, and The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction);
∙ 2 were published online (Flurb #3 and Strange Horizons);
∙ 1 was published in a single-author collection (William Shunn’s An Alternate History of the Twenty-first Century.

This might not mean much to you, but compare it to the original publications from Year’s Best SF 1 whose 14 stories first appeared in 1995:

• 10 appeared in traditional prozines;
• 4 appeared in original anthologies.

70% of the stories in 1995 appeared in the traditional prozines, down to 28%. 32% now appear in sources other than prozines /original anthologies, compared to 0% in 1995.

There is little doubt that the traditional prozines have decreased in importance to the sf field when the annual best-of-the-year containing the most traditional type of science fiction has largely moved away from the prozines. I suspect that if we compare the original sites of publication in another decade–assuming the series is still in existence then–we will find even fewer stories from prozines and more from online sources.

Fortunately, the redistribution of original sources has not affected the quality of the stories themselves. They are still all “pure” science fiction (thankfully, since I have wearied of contemporary fantasy, medieval fantasy, Tolkien fantasy, slipstream, magic realism and every other type of fiction which might be good but is definitely not science fiction), running the gamut from near future dismal (not my favorite type) through planetary adventures and space opera. As is typical in any anthology, some stories fell into my personal “blind spot,” but overall the stories were very enjoyable.

The longest story in the book is Gene Wolfe’s “Memorare,” a mystery set amongst personal mausoleums in space. It is a fairly routine story for Wolfe, which is not a bad thing at all. I must confess that some of his multi-layered stories read more like literary exercises than true pleasures.

Tony Ballantyne’s “The Aristotle OS” was an amusing story of a computer operating system which is a lot more rigid than practical. John Kessel’s “The Last American” took a jab at politicians by showing what it really takes to become president of the United States, no matter how unsavory a person one might be. Stephen Baxter’s “No More Stories” tells of a prodigal son who returns to his dying mother’s bedside and finds things considerably different than he expected (or could have expected).

Nancy Kress’ “End Game” is about a scientist who devises a method to devote 100% of a person’s concentration to the task at hand, and the implications this has for such a person’s life. Karen Joy Fowler’s “Always” is a story about immortality and cults.

As usual, Hartwell selects enjoyable stories overall, something for everybody who still enjoys science fiction in the face of the tsunami which fantasy has become.

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